Free Wi-Fi debacle in Stellenbosch

The Stellenbosch Free Wi-Fi project is facing numerous challenges, and according to information received by MyBroadband the stakeholders in this project are not agreeing on the best way to move forward.

In February this year Stellenbosch mayor Conrad Sidego revealed that they are planning to make Stellenbosch a Wi-Fi town. This is an initiative backed by Stellenbosch, Mxit and the University of Stellenbosch.

The project had great support and momentum initially, but there has not been much progress since the initial phase of rolling out a few hotspots in the Stellenbosch central business district (CBD).

According to a report in possession of MyBroadband, only a very small part of the planned Wi-Fi network rollout in the Stellenbosch municipality has been completed. The report highlights that only a handful of sites have been activated – all in the Stellenbosch CBD.

In April 2012 Stellenbosch councilor Pieter Venter said that the Wi-Fi network was live in the CBD and that the next phase involves extending the network to the greater Stellenbosch area (as far as Franschhoek and Pniel) over a six month period.

Venter explained that the core Wi-Fi network is already in place, and the municipality is currently simply putting repeaters closer to residents to ‘fill in’ the network and boost coverage. These repeaters are installed on lamp poles and on suitable high sites.

However, virtually no progress has been made on the rollout of this project, and the blame game seems to have started as to why this project is not a success.

Who is to blame?

According to a Stellenbosch Municipality report the rest of the network rollout is reliant on project funding, access to high sites and an operating model.

The document states that “it is not known whether there exist sufficient funds to continue with the project as planned”.

However, an expert close to the project highlighted that there is no funding required from the Stellenbosch Municipality for infrastructure or for purchasing of equipment.

It is understood that a proper joint venture trust with defined roles and funding positions is already in place.

There is also a debate raging on about how and where the Wi-Fi repeaters should be installed. This delay is seen as unnecessary and is causing frustration for some of the parties involved in this project.

“Please let us just get the repeaters onto the mast,” said one of the stakeholders involved in the project. “We have tried now for 8 months and they are not Meerkat panels or space rockets. These are lightweight and can be moved again.”

“The council decision was taken in February this year. It is almost a year later and council has not delivered anything yet,” he said.

One industry player close to the discussions said that the project would benefit significantly from gaining access to the municipality’s high sites on the mountains in the area.

Stellenbosch Wi-Fi repeater on street pole
Stellenbosch Wi-Fi repeater on street pole

The way forward

The Stellenbosch Municipality report suggests that the appointment of an official Wi-Fi operator is crucial for the success of the project.

The report further states that the determination of the official role or involvement of the municipality will provide better guidance for the administration in dealing with the project.

It is also suggested that the actual costs to implement and maintain the free Wi-Fi network should be determined.

This project therefore seems to have been buried in government bureaucracy, and the plans to roll out a Wi-Fi network have been replaced with municipal processes and investigations.

MyBroadband contacted the Stellenbosch Municipality for feedback regarding this issue, but attempts to get comment from the municipality proved fruitless.

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Free Wi-Fi debacle in Stellenbosch